When Mount Vernon-raised Thomas Dearborn takes command of the U.S. Navy’s newest ship Saturday, he will share the experience with the family that helped lift him from life as a virtual orphan in South Korea to the bridge of a ship serving the most powerful navy in the world.

“For me, personally, when I look at Richard and Marjorie Dearborn, and my brothers and sisters, I’ve been given a second chance on life,” Dearborn said.

Capt. Dearborn, 48, will take command of the USS Somerset, an amphibious transport dock used to carry Marines in and out of battle, after it is commissioned into full military service during a ceremony at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.

“As a Naval officer, to have the honor and privilege to be the first commanding officer of a ship is very unique,” Dearborn said. “Only a select few of us have the honor to do so.”

‘Let’s roll’

The Somerset is the third ship Dearborn has commanded during his 26-year career. His first command was the 170-foot patrol craft USS Tempest, which was followed by the 408-foot guided missed frigate USS Underwood. The Somerset, at 684 feet and a crew of 385 officers and enlisted personnel, is by far the largest ship Dearborn has commanded. The $1.2 billion ship can carry up to 800 Marines, along with vehicles, aircraft and cargo, to support a land attack from the water. The ship includes state-of-the-art command and control abilities as well as communication, computer and intelligence suites.

“We also have the capability to do other missions, like disaster relief,” Dearborn said. “We have the ability to fly in a fleet surgical support team…very much like you would see in a major hospital.”

Dearborn first took command of the Somerset a little more than a year ago. He has worked with a pre-commissioning unit while undergoing sea trials. The ship will enter in active service, a process called “bringing the ship to life” during Saturday’s commissioning. Dearborn said the crew will spend about a year conducting additional tests and trials.

The Somerset is the third U.S. ship named in honor of victims and first responders of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Somerset is named in honor of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pa., after passengers tried to overthrow the terrorists, thus likely saving another attack on Washington D.C. Forty passengers and crewmen were killed in the crash.

The ship’s builder, Louisiana-based Ingalls Industries shipyard, incorporated in the ship’s bow stem steel from a melted-down dragline bucket that had been near the crash site and was draped with an American flag. The flag became a symbol of the effort to retrieve the dead and jet debris in the days following the attack. Somerset also is emblazoned with the words, “Let’s roll,” the phrase uttered by passenger Todd Beamer to rally the passengers to overthrow the terrorists.

The namesake honoring the 40 heroes of Flight 93 make today’s ceremony much more significant than simple professional achievement, Dearborn said.

“It takes on an even deeper meaning for me,” he said.

Dearborn and his wife make their home in San Diego. Their daughter, Krystal, serves in the Navy and their son, Thomas Jr., is a senior at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Dearborn’s parents, Richard and Marjorie Dearborn, as well as brothers and sisters, continue to live in central Maine. The family left Wednesday morning for Pennsylvania.

“For me to share this with my family members makes it that much more special,” Dearborn said.

Remarkable turn

The milestone is a remarkable turn for a young boy born in the 1960s to a single mother in South Korea. Dearborn’s biological father was an American service member stationed there. He left Dearborn’s biological mom, who was South Korean, when Dearborn was 5. Because his father was an American, Dearborn was born with U.S. citizenship, which proved crucial to navigating the bureaucratic morass for adoption.

“As an American citizen born abroad I can recall going to get my visa stamped so I could remain,” Dearborn said.

His biological mother put her son up for adoption when she began to experience health problems.

Richard and Marjorie Dearborn, who already had six children, brought their 10-year-old son home to Mount Vernon in 1975.

“I was immediately placed in the Mount Vernon Elementary School in fifth grade,” Dearborn said. “I didn’t speak a bit of English. I didn’t even know the alphabet.”

Dearborn grew up on his family’s farm, graduating from Maranacook High School in Readfield and then the University of Maine in 1988 with a bachelor of science degree in Production and Processing Technology. After serving with Maine Maritime Academy’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps while at UMaine, Dearborn joined the Navy immediately after graduating from college.

“I wanted to give back to the country I was part of,” Dearborn said.

Growing up in Mount Vernon, Dearborn often wondered about his biological father and why he left. He tried for a time to find him, a quest that Dearborn now calls selfish.

“If I succeeded it probably wouldn’t have ended up well,” Dearborn said. “He actually gave me the greatest gift anyone could have, and that was American citizenship.”

Growing up on the Dearborn farm there was never an abundance of money, but Richard and Marjorie always made sure their children had enough.

“I really want to publicly thank Richard and Marjorie Dearborn,” their son said. “Nobody else other than them have set the conditions for me to be where I am today.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642 ccrosby@centralmaine.com